At Sri Lankan elephant orphanage, dung is in business (Feature)

Last Updated: Sun, Apr 25, 2010 07:00 hrs

Lanka), April 25 (IANS) Don't call it crap. Dung is actually being turned into profit at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, thanks to a good idea.

At the entrance to the orphanage stands a shop, Pinnawala Elephant Dung Paper, where elephant excrement is used to make products like notebooks, photo frames, gift items, book marks, photo albums and greeting cards.

'An elephant's dung is just fibre. Elephants are poor digesters and over 50 percent of what they eat comes straight out, which helps in making dung products,' M.R.S. Pinnawala, who runs the shop, told IANS.

The orphanage - established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department - is in Pinnawela, around 80 km from Colombo. With close to 86 elephants, dealing with tonnes of dung was a problem, but no more.

Next to the shop stands the factory where elephant dung is in business. The paper-making process goes like this - first, elephant dung is collected from the orphanage close by and then dried in the sun. The dried dung is then washed with water and disinfectant, leaving only fibrous materials behind.

The fibres are then boiled for a day to kill the bacteria. Once the fibres are boiled, they are put in a blender where it is cut and beaten to produce a paste.

Then colours and dyes are added to the paste to make different coloured paper and the paste is poured and spread on a flat rectangular mesh and dried in sunlight. The dried paste in the trays becomes paper. Once dry, the sheet of paper is peeled from the mesh and is ready to be turned into various paper products.

The products don't smell bad - actually they are odourless. The paper is eco-friendly too as no chemicals are used for its manufacture.

Tourists throng the place to buy the products.

'In a day we usually get close to 100 kg of dung. Since we take dung from elephants that are part of the orphanage, we give 30 percent of the revenue to the government,' said Pinnawala who started the business two years ago.

The orphanage was initially set up to save elephants from hunters who were killing them for tusks and farmers who killed them to protect their land and crops. At that time, many baby elephants were found abandoned as their families were killed.

Spread over 38 acres, the orphanage is now used as a breeding centre for elephants. It also takes care of abandoned and injured animals.

The elephants usually eat jackfruit leaves, coconut leaves, sugarcane, banana leaves, bamboo leaves and palm tree leaves. They are trained and have 32 commands to follow.

'The elephants are trained and understand our commands. If we say 'Oh', they will stop. They know 'ither' means lie down and 'deri' means eat,' Sumanbanda, chief mahout at the orphanage, told IANS.

Taking care of elephants is certainly an uphill task. For instance, a one-and-a-half-year-old elephant is fed with milk seven times a day and each time the baby elephant drinks five bottles.

(Ruchika Kher can be contacted at

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